The Osgoode Trilogy Blog Just another WordPress weblog Wed, 29 Sep 2010 17:28:52 +0000 en theosgoodetrilogy/LIwZ The Frankfurt Book Fair and StoryDrive Wed, 29 Sep 2010 17:28:52 +0000 admin I’ve never been to Germany but next Tuesday I’ll be there for the Frankfurt Book Fair. It’s massive…over 120,000 visitors and over 4,000 pariticipants. For updates, check out my blog at

The Drawing Lesson, the first in the Trilogy of Remembrance Wed, 15 Sep 2010 02:41:22 +0000 admin Hello everyone

It’s been a long time since I have written here. Why? Because I’ve been rather busy writing and publishing my fourth novel, The Drawing Lesson, which is the first in the next trilogy. Also, I have written a first draft of the second novel in this new trilogy, which is provisionally entitled “The Fate of Pryde.”

Would you like to see a terrific book trailer about The Drawing Lesson?

And then, of course, my next reason for being so slow in posting is that many hundreds of hours are spent in promotion.

I really hope you check the next novel out.

The Life She Wanted Sun, 11 Jan 2009 04:00:37 +0000 admin

I wrote this short story quite a few years ago in between edits of Conduct in Question. Sometimes I think that for a novelist, writing short stories can be similar to a painter making sketches for a large canvas. Have a look around the site. Enjoy.

The Life She Wanted

Martha Myles dusted the flour from her hands and wiped them on her apron. She found the beaters at the back of the kitchen drawer and pressed them into the electric mixer. Her new cookbook was propped open on the counter. With reading glasses perched on her nose, she stared at the recipe. Endless fine print ran across the page, obscuring what ought to be a simple task.

“Add two eggs,” she muttered. “Mix them with the flour, butter and milk.”

She cracked the eggs into the bowl, their yellow yolks staring up at her like blank, unseeing eyes. She stopped to pick out some shells. The mixer whirred making the yellowy eggs dive to the bottom. When the cake mixture spattered her glasses, she cleaned them off, and sighing, she returned to her task. With great concentration, she poured the mix into the pans and set them in the oven. Forty minutes to read, she calculated.

At the kitchen table, she reached for her glass of wine and opened a well-thumbed book. Studies in Philosophy, it read in tiny gold letters down its maroon coloured spine.

Could philosophy unravel the riddle? Was there life beyond this one? Within moments, she was seduced by racing rivers of thought. Like a twig caught in swirling currents, her mind paused to puzzle over an idea, then surged onward through the text. Did physical senses cloud other possibilities?  Like capricious breezes, glimpses of unknown dimensions teased the fringes of her mind. The kitchen no longer existed. Martha no longer existed. Her mind soared to cool and delicious realms of pure thought.

The high kitchen window, blackened by the night, reflected her hunched form which resembled an apparition from a distant world. She did not look through the oven window to see the cake heaving with tiny volcanoes. Martha remained oblivious to the darkening mass slopping from the bake pans. Only when wisps of burnt smoke wafted through the stovetop did she look up.

In blind confusion, she sought her glasses. Sharp smells of charred ruins filled the kitchen. With uncomprehending eyes, she peered into the oven and saw the lava-like mixture spilling out. Snatching on oven mitts, she pulled the pan from the rack to the counter. In disbelief, she stared at the blackened, crusted cake as if it were a relic inexplicably unearthed from a lost world.

Martha knew to let the cake cool. She poured more wine and attempted to return to her text. But the physical evidence of failure would not let her escape to her world. Why had she tried to bake a cake? To prove herself to the church altar guild, she admitted. The sin of pride, she smiled to herself.

With determination, she approached the cake, knife in hand. She chipped off as much of the black crust as she could, then slathered the cake with icing. Gobs of glistening chocolate helped fill in the craters. It was a sorry job, but it would have to do. After placing the cake on a plate, she put on her coat and carried it outside into the dark street at ten thirty nine.

Martha Myles did not see the shadow of the racing bicycle. She did not hear the frantic bell and the cry of the cyclist as he tried to brake. The front wheel caught her straight on and her body flew upward like a graceless bird, only to thud down on the far sidewalk. The cyclist ran to her. She did not move. She had hit her head on a lamppost and now she was dead. The cake had splattered on the road.

“Mama’s dead, Francine.” Margaret’s voice was a shocked, hoarse whisper on the phone.

“No, that can’t be!” Francine clutched her bathrobe about her and sank into a chair. “What happened?”

Margaret’s voice choked. “A bicycle killed her.”

Francine’s sob was strangled, like a bark of laughter. “She was riding a bicycle?”  She could not visualize her mother on a bicycle.

“No, of course not!” said Margaret in surprise.

Immediately, Francine was relieved. The image of her mother teetering on a bicycle seat would not plague her.

“She was hit by one.”

“But where? How?”

“Crossing the street. Late at night.” Margaret whispered. “The cake was smushed too.”

Francine’s hands trembled as she lit a cigarette. “Cake?” she asked.

“Mama baked a cake. A chocolate one.”

“What?” She could not imagine Mother baking a cake.

“It’s true! The cake was on the road.”

“Mom never baked,” said Francine obstinately.

“Well, she did this time!” Francine did not miss the defiant note from her younger sister. “The kitchen was a mess.”

“Wait a minute, Maggie.” Francine was disoriented. “You’re telling me Mom baked a cake and walked out into the street with it late at night. Then she was hit by a bicycle?”

Margaret’s reply was muffled. “Yes.”

“But that’s ridiculous! Where was she going with a cake at that hour?”

The telephone line was silent for moments. At last Margaret said evenly. “How should I know, Frannie? Come home. Just come home.”

At noon, the next day, Francine pulled on the heavy brass door of the funeral home. From the glaring sunshine of the noontime street, she entered the cavernous quiet of the reception room. Taking off her sunglasses, she stood before the polished desk and rang the bell. Her hand sprang back at the jangling. She looked about nervously as if afraid she had disturbed those laid to rest in back rooms. From behind a heavy brocade curtain, a man appeared dressed in a shiny black suit.

“Yes, Miss?” His voice was soft, but his dark eyebrows rose upward unpleasantly.

Francine tried to straighten her coat. Inexplicably, she was panting.

“Mrs Myles, please.”

“You are?” The man ran a meticulously manicured nail down a column in a book.

“Her daughter.”

“Ah, yes. Mrs. Myles is not quite ready yet.”

“Ready?” Francine was confused.

The man smiled sadly at her. A poor attempt at professional sympathy, she thought.

He cleared his throat discreetly and said, “The casket will be brought up to Room Five in about an hour. Perhaps you’d like to see your sister now?” Francine nodded slightly as the man ushered her down a narrow corridor.

In the empty visitation room, the sisters clung briefly in an awkward embrace. Embarrassed by her sister’s brimming eyes, Francine sat down and gazed out the window. At last she asked, “Maggie, how did this happen? When did mother start baking?”

Margaret looked oddly at her sister then shrugged. “I don’t know. Why does it matter?” Her voice dropped to a whisper. “I mean, now?” Carefully, she dabbed the tears from her puffed and reddened cheeks.

Francine twisted her fingers in her lap. “What does Aunt Evelyn say?” she asked, pursing lips in distaste. Maggie was the spitting image of Aunt Evelyn. In a show of impatience, Francine tapped her fingers on the arm of the chair. Her fingers were like mother’s- slim and tapered.

With forced calm, Margaret shrugged again. “She’s devastated, of course. But Frannie, why are you going on about baking? Nobody else thinks baking is strange.”

Anger flared in Francine. “Mom hated baking! That’s why I’m going on about it.”

Maggie’s mouth dropped open and then settled in a pout.

It was ridiculous, thought Francine. On the slightest pretext, some women would bake a cake. Mother had yearned for real challenges in life. Not baking. Francine choked on the thought of dull domesticity hemming her mother in.

Maggie sniffed and clasped her hands in her lap. “Actually, since you’ve been gone, Mama’s gotten quite involved in the church. Probably she was making something for the bake sale.”

Francine lurched forward in her chair. “The church? For God’s sake, she was always an atheist.”

Margaret twisted her Kleenex. “You’ve been away for sometime, Frannie.” She paused. “Busy with your own life and all.”

Francine strove for a controlled tone. “You think I neglected Mom, so she turned to religion?”

Margaret was shocked. “Of course not. She just went on with her own life the best she could. What if she turned to the church when she became sick?”

“Sick?” Francine was rigid. “Mom was ill and nobody told me?”

Eyebrows raised, the undertaker poked his head in the doorway. Francine waved him off.

“Now don’t make a scene, Frannie. Mom made me promise not to tell you.”

The undertaker returned and began re-arranging the banks of flowers.

“What was wrong with her?” Francine demanded. She rummaged about in her purse and then looked desperately about for an ashtray. She found none.

“She had cancer, but the doctors thought it was in remission.”

Francine jerked from her chair. “Great! Mother had cancer. Nobody told me.”

Snapping a rose from a vase, she began twirling it in her hand. Maggie drew back. Francine started to pace about the coffee table. First she peeled one petal back and absently ground it between her thumb and forefinger.

“Mom was sick and took up religion,” Francine continued, as her face grew pinched and white.

Margaret folded her arms across her chest.

With each determined step, Francine tore back more petals and let them scatter to the floor. Her fingers grew stained with red from the rose.

Margaret stared at the floor and said nothing. Francine shred the remaining petals into a bowl of hard candies. Francine’s voice cut their silence. “Then she started baking and nobody said a word.”

Maggie pursed her lips then said, “What on earth is wrong with baking?”

Francine smacked the stem across her palm. Her white face was red and blotchy. Towering above her sister, she hissed, “Now you call when she’s struck and killed by a bicycle.”

Maggie sighed and glanced at her watch. “Yes, Francine. That’s what happened.”

“Listen Maggie, Mom was a very intelligent woman. She gave up everything when we moved to this town where the biggest excitement is a rummage sale.” Francine tossed the stem on the table and stood with hands on her hips. “Did you know what Mom dreamt of?”

Margaret shook her head. “She was happy enough here,” she insisted.

“Happy? Suffocating in this backwater? Did you know Mom wanted to go back to university and study philosophy?”

Maggie smoothed her skirt and replied. “No Francine, I didn’t know. Mama was happy enough here. She had her sister and her friends.”

“And no chance for the life she wanted,” Francine breathed as she fought back her tears.

Maggie shrugged and sighed. “Not everyone saw it that way, Francine. Besides she had me, too.”

“That’s right. Everyone around to hold her back,” concluded Francine. The two sisters glared at each other until a soft sniffling distracted them.

Framed in the doorway, stood Aunt Evelyn. Just like a puffed up, quavering hen, thought Francine.

Margaret ran to her side. “Aunt Evie! Thank goodness you’ve come.” Tears dampened Margaret’s cheeks as she hugged Evelyn. Francine approached her aunt with care. She knew deadly charm bathed Evelyn’s critical eye.

Francine held out her hand and smiled sadly. “How nice to see you, Evelyn.”

Evelyn took Francine’s hand and drew her close in a suffocating embrace. “Frannie, I’m so sorry. This must be a terrible shock for you.”

Francine’s chest knifed in spasm. Her vision clouded as she fought back sudden tears. She smiled so broadly, it hurt. “Apparently, I knew nothing of my mother and her life,” she said.

“You’ve been away in the city, dear.” Evelyn patted her hand. “Your mother was so proud of you and your career. She understood, I’m sure.” Francine withdrew her hand. Evelyn sniffed gently and turned back to Margaret.

“When are they bringing her up, dear?” Evelyn asked.

Margaret glanced at her watch. “Any moment now.”

Francine winced. Unfamiliar with funeral custom, she floated off to examine the rows of flowers stifling the room. Dozens of blood red roses, she thought as her stomach pitched with revulsion. Words choked in her throat. Everyone else knew what to say in their comfortable grief.

“It’s an open casket, isn’t it dear?” whispered Evelyn in Margaret’s ear. Francine stiffened at the soft, insinuating words.

Dabbing her tears, Margaret nodded. “And they’ve done a lovely job, too.”

Spinning on her heel, Francine faced them. “You mean everyone will see her?”

The eyes of the two women widened in shock. Their round bodies puffed up with indignation. How alike they were, was Francine’s only thought. Within ten years, Margaret would be Evelyn and Evelyn would be gone.

Evelyn cleared her throat and did not hide her smile of pity. “It is customary, dear,”

“Mama would have wanted it,” said Margaret uneasily.

“To be on display?” Francine was incredulous. The silent undertaker stepped into the room and glanced warily about. Over his shoulder, Francine saw two smooth, pink-cheeked young men. Together, they carefully wheeled the gleaming oak casket into the room, on a stretcher of stainless steel. With great care, they parked it at the far end of the room in front of the banks of flowers.

With quick, dainty steps, Margaret and Evelyn approached the casket. Francine watched in growing horror as Evelyn nodded to the undertaker, who nodded to the young men in black suits and stiff white collars. Silently, they opened the lid of the casket.

Focusing only on the crouched backs of her sister and aunt, Francine approached cautiously.

“Oh!” gasped Margaret.

Francine could see nothing but the backs of the women blocking out the view.

“She looks wonderful,” murmured Evelyn in reverential tones.

“Just like herself,” crooned Margaret.

“Let me see!” said Francine as she crowded in between them.

Francine pushed the women aside.

“Oh my God!” Francine whispered. Her hand flew to her lips to stifle a cry.

“What’s wrong dear?” asked Evelyn, gently taking her hand. “I know it can be a shock, but…”

“What’s on her nose!” laughed Francine as she pointed at the corpse. In consternation, the young men stepped closer to the casket. The undertaker’s frown deepened.

“Are you all right, dear?” Evelyn pressed Francine’s hand and looked up at her anxiously.

Francine could see only one thing. A huge, dingy pink moth appeared to have perched on the tip of her mother’s nose. Desperately, she glanced about the frozen faces circled around the casket. Laughter choked her. Her mind reeled with improbabilities. It could not be a moth, she thought in an extreme effort to sober herself. What was it then? Pushing her way to the head of the casket, she peered directly at the body.

Old-fashioned glasses, just like Evelyn’s sat on the tip of the alabaster nose. The frames were pink with silver sequins on the hinges. Their upswept style gave the impression of wings in flight. Not a moth, after all.

Sternly, she told herself to stop laughing. For a moment, she fought the convulsions welling up in her. “How ridiculous!” she announced angrily.

“What is wrong, Frannie?” Margaret demanded..”You’re beside yourself.”

Despite her best efforts, a chuckle escaped Francine as she turned on her sister. “It’s grotesque! It’s absurd!”

“What?” came the chorus.

“The glasses.”

“What’s wrong with the glasses?” asked Evelyn patiently.

“What possible use has she for them? She’s dead. She cannot see.”

Rolling her eyes, Margaret stepped forward. “Francine, you’re making a scene. They try to make her as she was. As life like as possible.”

“She’s dead, Margaret! Why pretend she’s not?”

Francine reached for the glasses. Margaret’s hand shot out and held her sister’s hand fast. Francine withdrew.

“Besides, the glasses are hideously ugly,” Francine said quietly.

Evelyn stiffened. “I know you’re upset, darling. Perhaps a glass of water?”

Francine hugged herself. She heard voices surrounding her.

“Are you shivering? Are you cold?

Francine shook her head. “Look what you’ve done to her.”

Francine touched her mother’s hand. How cold and hard and brittle it was. The unlived life was forever gone, suffocated by the commonplace wishes of others. Now they wanted to prolong it. They wanted to pretend she was still with them baking cakes in church halls and kitchens, filled with clucking hens. Where was the adventure, the love of life and pursuit of thought? Where were the books and the paintings?

Francine began to weep in useless anger. “She wanted to study philosophy. She wrote to me about that,” she insisted.

“Philosophy?” someone asked in surprise.

“But all of you narrowed her vision. What chance did she have? She hated baking cakes!”

“No one stopped her from reading.” insisted Margaret. “Whatever she wanted.”

“She offered to bring something for the bake sale,” said Evelyn. “She was part of the community here.”

Francine cried out. “Look at those glasses! They’re ghastly and she doesn’t need them anymore.”  She reached into the casket. With one swift movement, she snatched the glasses from her mother’s nose.

With a deep breath, Aunt Evelyn drew herself up. Her bosom almost reached Francine’s midriff. In quavering tones, she said, “Take the glasses if you must, my dear. But we really can’t understand you. Why can’t a philosopher bake a cake, if that’s the life she wants?”

THE SECOND DRAFT AND MORE Sat, 03 Jan 2009 05:26:04 +0000 admin

I sometimes say the first draft of a novel is the most satisfying to write. When the creative spirit gallops free as a mare in the fields, kicking up its heels, you know the work is going splendidly! But when it’s not, your spirit [creative or otherwise] drags along like a lame donkey hauling a cart of manure. Life can be unmitigated hell.

But at last, it’s wonderful! Your first draft of an entire novel exists, complete with a beginning, middle and end. Now what happens?

If your creative spirit roamed free in writing the first draft, it may be a terrific novel, but I’ll bet you’ll have your work cut out for you.

I wrote Final Paradox, the second in The Osgoode Trilogy, in long bursts of creativity. In fact, it seemed someone else inside me, [a different person from the one who wrote Conduct in Question] was doing the heavy work. Ever had the experience of saying something and thinking-who on earth said that? I believe that’s your subconscious chiming in. And so, if that happens when you’re writing, pay attention! It’s probably really good.

However, be careful. You’ve probably got a tremendous amount of re-drafting work ahead of you. In it’s first draft, Final Paradox, was a crazy, sprawling mass of contradictions. You could tell creative passion had written it. Rough and disorganized it may have been, but it had an energy all its own.

What to do? First, I went through it chapter by chapter, trying to see just what should go where. Although I almost never make charts and plans at the outset, I frequently make scroll-like charts to show me where I’ve been. Then I can tell whether I made a wrong turn there or went down a path to nowhere at another point. Then, I studied Robert Mckee’s extremely useful book Story, Substance, Structure, Style and the Principles of Screenwriting. This helped me “train” the story, so as to put it into an effectively paced, properly integrated progression of scenes. And that took many months of study and re-organizing.

Next came the refining. Once I had the chapters reasonably well organized, I was able to examine the manuscript in more detail. How did the dialogue sound? Did each major character speak in his or her own distinctive “voice”? Could I contrast one action scene with a slower paced, more reflective one? How could I weave in themes of love and forgiveness among all the murder and fraud? How could I connect these two levels? Thousands of questions came up, but finally, I was at a second draft, which was much more understandable.

After that, I could pay attention to all the smaller details, such as grammar, spelling etc. One of the tasks, which comes in the much later drafts, is polishing and embellishing. For example, suppose you’ve written a scene [as I did in Final Paradox for Harry Jenkins] where he is on the run and hiding out in a dingy motel. I wanted to capture not only the description of the place, but also express his mood of desperation and depression through that description-all in just a few sentences. Making those choices of words and phrases is, for me, the polishing and embellishing of the manuscript.

And so, if you’ve “tamed” that manuscript, without killing it’s passion and energy, you’ve done a great job. When the wild horse is “broken” and trained properly with love and care, he may win the race. If you keep revising and redrafting, you may win the Kentucky Derby of novels!

THE FIRST DRAFT: One trick to get there. Tue, 30 Dec 2008 16:40:28 +0000 admin

It’s a marvellous “high” seeing those three hundred pages stacked up on your desk-the first draft! How long did it take? Three months, a year, a decade? I remember when the last page chugged out of my, by then, wheezing printer that I gazed at that first draft in awe for at least ten minutes. It was the first glimpse of my new-born.

But how did it get there? It’s important to give that some thought, especially now that the real work of revising lies ahead. What did I learn from completing it?

I vividly remember the steps along the way. After I had completed the first fifty pages of Conduct in Question, the first in The Osgoode Trilogy, I came to a screeching halt. I had absolutely no idea where to go next. I racked my brain for plot ideas and called upon my muse, who remained sullen and stubbornly silent.

Yes, I had created lawyer, Harry Jenkins, the protagonist, who would eventually grow big enough and complex enough to fill three books. I had created the beautiful Natasha, Harry’s beloved. I had burdened him with his churlish secretary, Miss Giveny. But I did not know what they would do next.

And then, the light went on. I did not know nearly enough about these people. Harry, his secretary, Natasha and the other cast members were on stage. Harry’s elderly client, Miss Deighton, and her strange family members, Katharine, Suzannah and Gerry, were waiting in the wings. Worse yet-although I had created the “bad guy”, who was eventually to become the Florist, I didn’t really know what made him tick.

At last, the answer came to me. I spent about a month [I was doing other things, such as practising law] making notes on a yellow, legal pad. I can see it now. I listed each character and wrote down as much as I could think of, for each one of them.

Physical appearance to the last detail, mannerisms, modes of speech and thought filled the pages for each character. Where did he or she live? What sorts of relationships did they have to the other characters and to themselves? What motivated each of them? Was his or her temperament extraverted or introverted? Honest, deceitful, violent or peace-loving? I could go on, but you get the idea. By the time I was finished, I had a file half an inch thick.

That’s fine, but you may ask how could such an exercise help? After all, I wasn’t planning on writing a novel of description only. I needed plot ideas. Here’s the interesting part. Once I had written all I could imagine about these characters, they-like dolls from the toy chest at night-climbed out and began to play. They started telling me what they were going to do. Some were quite adamant. But this is not really so surprising. After all, if you are creating real characters, real people, sooner or later they will speak up for themselves. And so they did.

After that, I raced on for the next fifty pages, until I came again to a halt. Convinced I was onto a good trick, I began the process again. I got out my file of characters and wrote down everything I could possibly imagine about each of them. And it worked. I was able to see my way through quite a few more chapters.

Now this process works for me, but it may not for other writers. Perhaps it works for me, simply because no character can come alive on the page unless I really know him or her well. If you do get this intimately involved in your characters lives, perhaps they will tell you the story-but only when you listen carefully when the toys come out to play late at night.

What I learned from William Makepeace Thackeray Sun, 28 Dec 2008 02:29:16 +0000 admin

Only a week or so ago, I posted a blog here entitled, what I learned from Ernest Hemingway. In it I said that Hemingway was good writer because he let the dialogue of the characters do most of the heavy lifting-that is the writer could convey emotion, mood, feeling etc., to the reader. To do otherwise was tantamount to having an annoying stage director come out in the middle of a scene to comment on what the characters were thinking and feeling.

The very next book I picked up was Vanity Fair by William Thackeray-a fine nineteenth century novel which, although written about the same time as Dickens’ novels, it never achieved that degree of popularity.

Thackeray was all too aware of the difficulties in competing with Dickens. When it was published, Vanity Fair was considered too cynical and misanthropic for the general readership. But then, many writers have had to hunt down and build up their audiences. Even so, Vanity Fair has certainly met the test of time and has achieved much distinction.

Within a few pages of beginning to read it, I was laughing at myself. It was very clear that so much of writing advice has to do with the style of the moment. And who is to say that styles never return?

Thackeray is very much like that annoying stage director, whom I mentioned earlier. Except he’s not annoying at all. As he tells his story, Thackeray frequently buttonholes his readers and seems to have a direct conversations with them. While he is speaking to the reader, the characters stand motionless and in silence waiting to be brought back to life.

Does this seem stilted and overly formal? Not to the nineteenth century reader. Don’t forget, these stories [especially Dickens'] which were published in instalments in the press, they were eagerly anticipated by the public.

But what is Thackeray saying to his readers? Sometimes, he is telling a relevant tidbit about the character’s past or even hinting at what may befall him in the immediate future. He might observe something about the individual’s nature with a sort of wry aside. I think it is that habit which drew the criticism of cynicism.

Why wasn’t this style irritating? For some reason, I felt as if it added depth or even another dimension to the writing-as if the party had become bigger and better. Not only were there the characters present in the story, but also the writer and the reader seemed to have their own more active, assigned roles. The reader was to observe what the writer showed him and was almost invited to enter into a conversation with him. At times, I felt on an intimate, first name basis with Thackeray after several of these “chats”.

In the twentieth century, we are so used to a smooth and streamlined style and this is not confined to the writing of dialogue. Today writers don’t usually jounce the reader about with sudden changes of voice. Rarely does he or she step out from behind the stage curtain to add commentary.

Why do we no longer write in that style? I have always thought that the movies have had a huge effect upon how we write stories. Just think of all those nineteenth century novels you had to read in school. Every blade of grass in the English countryside was described in loving detail. And then there were paragraphs heaped upon paragraphs of descriptions of clouds and sunsets. Of course, life moved at a much slower pace and so did people-more time to observe.

However, since moving pictures we’ve become used, in the hands of an expert cinematographer, to taking in a scene in a second or two. No time for paragraphs of descriptive prose. Now, in order to grab the reader’s attention, the author fears he has to get the action going right away or else his book is dead in the water. You can hear the potential publisher saying when is the story going to start? And so, such a novel will never see the light of day-especially when publishers only want blockbusters.

You may ask why does it matter? Of course each era has its own style! It matters because we might well think about the permanence of any one writing style. When a creative writing teacher says that a particular style is outdated and that we must do this or that to our story, perhaps we should think long and hard about the advice given.

Naturally, stories will reflect the times in which they were written. If we are all products of a particular time and place, how can it be otherwise? Perhaps that is true, but how then does anyone strive for originality? How does a writer break away from the present writing of the day and try something new.

I would suggest that a real writer wants to aim for exactly that and not be stuck in the style of his own time. Who knows? Maybe someone will learn something from a nineteenth century author and adapt it to this time and place. Just try writing like that!

THE WRITER’S VOICE Sat, 27 Dec 2008 03:42:12 +0000 admin

As I said the other day, I thought I’d post a few articles about my musings about writing. I’d love to hear your thoughts.

Sometimes critics speak of a writer’s voice. But what do yousuppose they mean?  I think of it as a goal to be achieved on a very long road. It’s that uniquely personal “way” you have of expressing yourself to the world in word and thought-the sum total of yourself as a human being. You might say it’s the Holy Grail of writing.

But how and when do you find your voice? I remember when one of my sons was in grade eight. His English teacher complained to me that he had not yet found his own writing voice. Astonished, I said, “He’s only twelve. Surely you know that writers spend their lives seeking that voice and then perfecting it?” Before you find that Grail, I think there are many steps and stops along the way.

I remember attending a writing class when I was not very far into writing a first draft of Conduct in Question, the first novel in what eventually became The Osgoode Trilogy. I was truly amazed to hear the teacher say that he usually revised his work twelve times-on average. My God! I thought. You mean three times won’t cut it? And so, began a very long journey through countless drafts of three novels, featuring the protagonist lawyer, Harry Jenkins.

It is said that a carpenter must have proper tools and this is true of any craftsmen-writers included. And she must be skilled in the use of those tools after long years of practice. So what are the tools of the writer? Many of us spend hours choosing just the right computer and clearing away a quite space of our own to write. Certainly, we need pens and paper and lots of good light. Oh, and an ergonomic chair. Fine, so far as it goes.

But what else is needed? What are the real tools of the writer? Dare I say, that a strong, fundamental grasp and passionate love of the language, a broad vocabulary and a sense of grammar, are necessary? This does not mean a writer must be able to cite a rule for every sentence she writes, but she must have such a fine grasp of her tools so that their proper use is automatic. After all, they are only tools with which to express one’s view of the mystery of life and they should not get in the way of the flow of thought. Unfortunately, I have seen writing in its most formative stages, where the lack of knowledge of sentence structure is appallingly absent. [My children have referred to me as a member of "the grammar police."] Surely, mastery of these essentials must be the very first step on the journey, before one can even begin to explore and express one’s thoughts and passions.

But this takes us only so far. We have to develop a sense of so many things; namely, plot sequencing, character development, and dialogue, just to mention a few. On top of all of this, we need an idea or many ideas. We need inspiration, plus an attitude of flexibility and curiosity, which permits abandoning a line or direction and picking up a new thread.

I have often been asked if I write on a scheduled basis-so many hours in the morning etc. The answer is NO. I only sit down to write when I feel I have something to say. For me, I do a lot of “writing” in my head. Consequently, when I do sit down to write, I rarely suffer writer’s block. Perhaps that sort of block is really to prevent us from running “on empty” when we have nothing to say. Sometimes, you have to sit back and let the well fill up again. I’ve been asked if I make a plan or outline of the novel before writing it. I am amazed that anyone could do that! For me, it’s a process of growing the characters and the events over time. I do, however, make a chart of where I’ve been so that I don’t forget.

These are just a few items I’ve found along the path to finding the writer’s voice. But here’s one thing I do try out with each passage. I read it out loud to myself. Why? If you read your work aloud-just to yourself-then something quite magical happens. Your inner ear comes alive. Remember humankind has told stories long before anyone could write. The first story telling was undoubtedly around the campfire. I find when I read aloud then all the bumps and awkwardness are immediately spotted. I might have read [with my eyes] a certain passage fifty times over and would not have picked up what the voice registers instantly on the ear. Don’t forget, language was first in the spoken form and there is something within us which hears the false or awkward.  If you do this with all your writing, you will quickly become aware of your clumsy wording. Eventually, you will sense the cadence and the rhythm of your prose. And that, for me, is part of the writer’s voice. And, by the way, I did read this aloud. Hope it sounds okay.

Wishing every one a very Merry Christmas and a great holiday Wed, 24 Dec 2008 19:41:50 +0000 admin Right now, where I am, it’s about 2:30 in the afternoon on Christmas eve day. What I really like is the quiet which sometimes descends at this time after all the running around for food and gifts. Just a moment for quiet reflection before celebrations get going.

I’m going to start posting [today]some articles on writing and assorted topics and so, I hope you drop back in soon.

An An Act of Kindness Sun, 21 Dec 2008 19:17:49 +0000 admin

This short story is the debut of Harry Jenkins, Toronto lawyer, hero of The Osgoode Trilogy. If you like Harry, try Conduct in Question, Final Paradox and A Trial of One. Harry came into being after my practising law for thirty years in Toronto.

In his law practice, Harry Jenkins frequently visited the elderly and infirm in their homes. Occasionally, he attended upon the wealthy in their mansions. Today, he was visiting Miss Alicia Markley and her friend of many years, Sarah Carmichael. Affluence and infirmity were married in one appointment.

The Rosedale Valley road was an isolated stretch winding through a deep ravine in the centre of Toronto. Dirty slush spattered his windshield, forcing him to slow down until the wipers had cleared his view. Opening his window to clear the mist, he heard the hollow boom of traffic on the span of concrete bridge above. Forests of branches, waving against the bleak winter sky, reminded him of wild spirits fleeing the night. He checked his watch. He was already late.

The two women shared a stone house wedged between the mansions of Binscarth Road in Rosedale. Alicia had called to say they wanted to some sort of open a business. Harry thought the inquiry unusual, since both of them were well in their sixties and financially well off. Known for their charm and devotion to charity, the ladies were paragons of social propriety. Harry smiled as he tried to visualize them, sleeves rolled up and embroiled in the daily mess of business affairs. But he knew torrents, raging beneath a calm exterior, could silently foment major upheavals. Solicitors usually touched only the surface of life and remained unaware of dark currents which often guided events.

He frowned in recollection. Last year, Sarah had suddenly taken to her bed after a funeral to remain there ever since. Perhaps she had miraculously recovered. Otherwise, a business venture did seem strange. Such enquiries were often idle notions created by bored minds. Harry sighed and struggled to maintain his optimism.

He slowed down to catch the turn into Rosedale. His bleak thoughts were mirrored by the dismal February afternoon. He had seen the ladies last year at the funeral of Ronald Hobbs, city councillor. His funeral was a side-show, partially paid from the public purse. Half the city’s police force had escorted the hearse and a long line of limousines. In an age of declared fiscal responsibility, Harry wondered at such profligacy. Nonetheless, the show had gone on. Since he was advising city council on various planning issues, Harry considered it politic to attend.

The funeral was held at the cavernous St. Bartholomew’s Church on Sherbourne Street, south of Rosedale. The crush of  media had attracted overflow crowds. Harry was relieved to squeeze into a pew near the front. Low chuckles rose from behind him. Harry winced. The press was at its post.

“Know where they found Hobbs?” someone behind Harry said. Harry half-turned in his seat.

“Floating in his swimming pool.”


“Ya.” Harry could hear the reporter cracking his gum in excitement.

“Pictures will be in tonight’s paper.”

“He drowned?”

“Looks like. But the real story is, he was stark naked. Floating ass-up in his pool!”

More chuckles followed.

“But get this!” the voice said. Harry craned his neck. “Right at his indoor pool, near the cabana, they found champagne on ice and two glasses.”



“Was the champagne open?”

“I don’t know.”

More low chuckles followed.

“Wonder who the guest was?”

Hobbs’ reputation as a womanizer was legendary, but Harry wondered what city councillor could afford not only an indoor pool, but also a cabana.

Across the aisle, in the front pew, the Hobbs family sat in stony silence. The watch of the dead, thought Harry. Directly behind them, Alicia Markley and Sarah Carmichael were huddled. Sarah was crouched in the pew, sobbing steadily. With a penetrating glare, Mrs. Hobbs turned about at the sound of Sarah’s sniffles. Alicia wound a consoling arm around her friend to no avail. Rarely had Harry witnessed such a public display of grief from someone unrelated. Sarah’s sobs continued unabated as she rested her head against her friend’s shoulder. Harry could only guess at the nature of a relationship which could bring on such sorrow. When the minister took the pulpit, Sarah’s weeping diminished and Harry breathed a sigh of relief. Alicia gently brushed a damp strand of  hair from Sarah’s cheek.

Black chunks of sludge flew up at Harry’s car as he turned down into the quiet streets of Rosedale. Across the park, the frozen trees looked like pen sketches against the grey patches of snow near the rink and sullen sky. In the dim light, he squinted to read the numbers on the houses on Binscarth Road. There was the Markley house; modest in size, but constructed entirely of stone. The long driveway had not been shovelled for weeks. Once the snow had drifted in sleek, sculpted patterns. Now it had shrunk into muddy patches. Careful to read the signs, Harry parked on the street. When he opened the gate of the stone fence, his spirits rose. The house was only a storey and a half, but lights glowed and welcomed him inward. He knocked. Within moments, Alicia Markley answered.

Catching his breath, Harry stepped back. Miss Markley was a tall woman. Her soft and slender form was silhouetted by the light. Harry had remembered her as sharp-edged and angular. Except when it came to Sarah, she was usually surly. On past occasions, she had seemed like a gawky child, whose features were not yet fully developed; a nose too big, a mouth too wide. Not at all gawky now, he thought. Her long floral-patterned skirt and silk blouse did not square with his memory of severe tweed suits and sensible shoes. Something had changed.

“Mr. Jenkins! How delightful to see you again.” She smiled graciously and drew him inward. Close in the narrow hall, she helped him remove his coat. After she had hung his coat in the closet, Harry followed her inward to the living room.

A log blazed in the fireplace and sherry glasses were set on a silver tray. The scene was one of comfort and pleasure. Setting his case beside the coffee table, he sank into a chair.

“How kind of you to come on such a dismal day, Mr. Jenkins.” She beamed at him.

“Not at all. You have a very pleasant home.” Harry relaxed in the quiet peace surrounding him.

“You’ll have a sherry once we’ve discussed business?” The intensity of her request made him look up from his legal pad. He smiled and nodded. “Of course, I’d like that.”

Her gaze was somewhat distracting. In the flickering light, her face had acquired the sharp angles of his recollection of her. But when she smiled, warmth and softness radiated from her. He sat back.

“Mr. Jenkins, I have a business proposal to discuss with you.”

“Certainly. What is it?” He picked up his pen.

“My friend Sarah and I have been considering opening an artist studio.” She paused to study the heavy silver rings on her fingers.

Harry was surprised. “For yourselves?”

Alicia shook her head wearily and said, “No. Sarah’s never been very creative. Too timid for her own good. However, we’ve shared a love of art throughout our lives.” Alicia stopped, as if lost in recollection. Then she said, “In fact, we’ve shared a great deal together, Mr. Jenkins.”

Harry had made only one note. ‘Artist studio’. He looked up. “And?” he prompted.

“I’m very concerned about her. I think she needs a project to bring her back to life.”

“She’s been ill for some time?”

“She’s lost her passion for life. She needs an interest to revive her.” Alicia rose swiftly to the mantelpiece. Her motions reminded Harry of an awkward bird alighting a branch. “And so, I’ve decided,.” she said, fiddling with the clock, “we should open a studio where young artists can work.” She took the sherry decanter from the coffee table and poured two glasses. She spilled several drops.Harry waited as she dabbed at the tiny pool of liquid. “They’d pay a fee for the use of the space?” he asked.

“I suppose.” Alicia shrugged. “Something like that.” She handed Harry his glass. “The money’s not important. I just want her back.”

Harry reflected upon her words. “It’s a charitable enterprise, which is good for tax purposes.” He knew clients always liked to hear of tax savings. “You should incorporate the business as a non-profit company. So, anything you earn above expenses and your salaries, gets paid out tax free.” Easily enough done, he thought.

Alicia nodded absently. “Then do it, Mr. Jenkins. Please.” Obviously she had no interest in detailed legal advice. Harry knew he was missing something.

Alicia began to pace slowly about the coffee table. “You’ve heard of Ronald Hobbs?”

“Yes, the City Councillor who died last year.”

Alicia nodded. “After his funeral, Sarah took to her bed and simply, for no physical reason, became an invalid.” Alicia’s face grew pinched in thought. Suddenly she turned away from Harry and rushed to the foot of the stairs. She cocked her head and motioned him to remain silent. After a moment, she shook her head. “I thought I heard her upstairs. I did so hope she’d come down.” She returned to stand behind his chair and rested her hand on his shoulder. He glanced up at her.

“Mr. Jenkins,” she began quietly. With her closeness, Harry contemplated  the loneliness of elderly spinsters. “I want to show you something, so you’ll understand the problem.”

She moved to the sideboard. Opening a drawer, she lifted out a heavy package wrapped up in brown paper. Carefully she untied the string and drew out two frames. In them were two photographs, which she handed to him.

Harry searched for his reading glasses. The room seemed to darken as he examined the first one, a photograph of a man in a business suit. Harry’s mouth dropped open. He could think of no words. He handed the photograph back to her and said at last, “But why?”

With great precision, the head of the man in the photograph had been neatly clipped out and then crudely pasted at the bottom. No doubt, it was the City Councillor, Ronald Hobbs.

She handed him the second photograph. Again, Hobbs, dressed in a casual shirt had been beheaded. Again, his face was pasted at the bottom, this time, upside down.

“After the funeral,” Alicia began quietly, “we returned to the house. Sarah was inconsolable. I took her upstairs and put her to bed.” Alicia’s voice was devoid of emotion as if she were reporting a distant and mildly curious event. “I went down stairs to make her some tea and when I got back, she was sitting up in bed snipping out the heads with a pair of nail scissors.”

Alicia smoothed her skirt and then continued, “She had such a strange look on her face, Mr. Jenkins, and she hummed a little tune. She wasn’t herself at all, you see.”

Harry could picture the scene with clarity. “But who pasted them back in?” he asked.

Alicia shrugged as if the question were unimportant. “Oh, she did several days later.”

Harry rose from his chair and went to the bay window. The significance of  legal issues surrounding taxation of charitable corporations was paling. The snow had started. Huge soft flakes drifted down, swiftly covering the walk and muddy patches on the lawn. The world was coated in silence.

The story fascinated him. He could almost hear Sarah’s sing song voice and see her vacant smile. Apparently normal minds could turn themselves inside out. He turned and spoke to Alicia. “So she took to her bed and never got up?”

Alicia nodded. “Perhaps I was wrong, but then I thought she must hear the truth about Mr. Hobbs.”

“Which was?”

Alicia’s voice became bitter. “He was a philanderer, Mr. Jenkins.”

Harry almost smiled at the old fashioned word. Surely everyone knew of Hobbs’ exploits. He asked, “Sarah and he were lovers?”

“Yes. Sarah was less than faithful.”

Harry was confused. “You mean he was unfaithful?”

Anger flashed in Alicia’s eyes as she rushed on. “What could anyone expect? After all, he was a man.”

Harry ignored the slight. “What did you tell her?” he asked.

Alicia sighed deeply. Her dark eyes bore into him. Harry sank into his chair. Her intensity compelled him to listen.

“I saw Mr. Hobbs with another woman. Not his wife.” Alicia stiffened in her chair. “I thought Sarah should know.” Harry waited in silence. The room once warm and inviting was growing hot and oppressive. He was drawn to hear the story.

“You know the arcade downtown?” she began.

Harry knew it well. He nodded.

“One day, I was shopping there. Just picking up a few things.”

Harry instantly pictured her marching through the narrow passages of shops in her severe tweed suit and heavy shoes.

“When I finished, I stopped for coffee at a table on the mews.

Harry visualize her, eyes darting suspiciously about nearby tables.

“While I was waiting, I looked inside through the glass.” Alicia pursed her lips in distaste. “There he sat at a table with a woman.”

Harry could well imagine Alicia’s ill-disguised attempt at nonchalance.

Disgust mounted in Alicia’s voice. “There was no mistaking him.” She shook her head. “Leering over her with his hand on her knee.” Alicia’s face was suffused with anger. “She was a common slut!”

Harry was shocked. He could easily envision the groping city councillor and the woman, but he could not comprehend Alicia’s mounting fury. White faced, she stood in front of the fire. Glaring, she pointed at him. “He was a licentious and immoral fraud, Mr. Jenkins!” Harry felt accused of aeons of male perfidy.

At last she continued. “When he saw me, he got the waiter, paid the bill and slunk out with his woman.”

“He knew you?” Harry asked in surprise.

“We had met once or twice before,” she said carefully. Then she added darkly, “I followed them, Mr. Jenkins.”

So powerful was the story, Harry had the odd sensation of voyeurism. He saw poor Hobbs rushing from the cafe. His woman stumbled after him in her stiletto heels and tight skirt. He saw Alicia in her sensible shoes striding mercilessly after them. He saw them hurrying down tiled hallways surrounded by brass and marble. He heard the muted rush of the noontime crowds underneath the opaque skylight. In the distance, he saw the couple hand in hand, desperately seeking sanctuary in the twisting passages.

Harry closed his eyes and asked weakly, “Did you see anything more?”

Alicia shook her head. “No. They escaped.”

Harry felt strangely frustrated at the inconclusiveness of the story.

“I had to tell her, Mr. Jenkins.” Crouched in her chair, Alicia bit her lip.

“What was Sarah’s reaction?”

“She said she wanted to die,” said Alicia weakly. “She’s said almost nothing since. Not even ‘thank you’ for all the nursing, bathing and meals I cook her.” Alicia looked up helplessly. Her eyes were rimmed with red. “Was I wrong, Mr. Jenkins?” she asked.

Harry squirmed in the role of moral arbiter. He had no idea what to say. But he had an uncanny ability to picture scenes vividly. The images of Alicia, the avenging angel, and Sarah, the determined decapitator, were emblazoned on his memory.

At last Alicia spoke. “So, you see, I thought I might divert her with a project.”

Harry was relieved to return to legal matters. “Then you want to proceed with the incorporation?” His pen was poised over his pad.

“First, I want you to talk to Sarah. Perhaps she’ll listen to you.” With determination, Alicia stood up. “Let’s go upstairs, Mr. Jenkins.”

Harry had no idea why the uncommunicative Sarah would want his advice. Alicia led the way up the stairs. The stairwell was lined with photographs of ancient relatives. Fortunately, he observed, all the heads were intact.

Sarah’s bedroom was down the hall at the back of the house. A grey light seeped from her door which was slightly ajar. Harry’s chest constricted. He hated unannounced bedside visits. No sound could be heard from within.

Suddenly, Harry became aware of a faint, yet foul odour. Alicia stepped inside the room and closed the door behind her. With bile rising in his throat, Harry hung back and stared at the ceiling.

“Darling?” said Alicia. There was no reply.

“Sarah, you must sit up and look at me,” Harry heard Alicia say. There was rustling of curtains and a sigh, but Sarah had not yet replied. Alicia’s voice grew insistent. “Mr. Jenkins is here. I want you to discuss our plan with him.”

Harry stared at his shoes. The room was silent. “If you won’t co-operate,” Alicia hissed, “there won’t be any dinner for you!” Harry frowned. “Now sit up at once and stop this nonsense.” Harry could hear the mounting desperation in Alicia’s voice.

Suddenly, the door flew open. Alicia’s gaunt form swayed in the doorway. Harry was almost knocked over by the stench emanating from the bedroom.

“Mr. Jenkins!” Alicia’s face was white and strained. “Something is terribly wrong with Sarah!”

Harry stepped into the room. His eyes bounced wildly back and forth between the women. Sarah’s head lolled awkwardly to one side of the pillow. Her unseeing eyes stared at the far wall.

Alicia clenched her hands and cried in desperation, “She refuses to speak to me after all I’ve done for her. She won’t eat, although I’ve begged her.” In her misery, she clutched at Harry’s hands and dragged him toward the bed. Harry could scarcely get his breath. At last he spoke, “Alicia, she’s dead. She’s been dead for days.”

Alicia’s expression was uncomprehending. “No, Mr. Jenkins!” Violently she shook her head. “That cannot be. I’ve given my life for her. She cannot die.”

Staggered by the rancid air, Harry grasped Alicia’s shoulders and marched her into the next bedroom. Immediately, he opened the window and took deep, greedy breaths of the cold night air. He was amazed to find the steady breeze fanned his anger.

He turned on her. “How in God’s name could you not know she’s been dead for days?”

He was prepared for anger, but not her sweet and patient smile. “That isn’t true, Mr. Jenkins. Last night, we toasted our new venture with a glass of champagne and had a lovely chat before bedtime.” She glanced down at her rings. “Granted, she hasn’t eaten much today. I was going to bring her dinner after you’d gone.”

Her smile of innocence and fond gaze made Harry understand. In that moment, he realized she was completely mad. Why had he been so slow to understand? He sat on the bed and gently took her hand. “We’ll have to call for help, Alicia.”

“Help?” she laughed. “I don’t need any help. I’ll start her dinner as soon as I’ve had a little rest.” She slumped back on the pillow and shut her eyes.

Harry walked down the hall to the bathroom and shut the door. On the ledge above the sink sat two champagne glasses. Beside them were three bottles of pills. His head was beginning to throb. He gripped the sink. Then he saw the empty capsules strewn on the ledge. He straightened up. How easy, he thought, to give an overdose with champagne.

Wearily he returned to the bedroom. “Alicia,” he said quietly. Her eyes flew open. “How many capsules did you give her?”

“Quite a few,” Alicia replied. “She wanted to leave. So I let her. It was an act of kindness.” A tiny sob escaped Alicia. “But, I miss her so.”

If he tried hard, Harry could imagine the circumstances leading up to so called mercy killing. Had Sarah begged her friend to put an end to suffering? Had Sarah been driven to death by the unfaithfulness of men? Regardless, such an act of kindness was definitely against the law.

“She tortured me so,” said Alicia angrily. “She never could decide between the two of us.”

Harry turned sharply to face her. “What? Between whom?”

“Between me and that horrid man, Mr. Hobbs.”

At last Harry understood. He remembered the champagne glasses beside Mr. Hobbs’ cabana. Death with champagne. “You were jealous of him?” Harry prodded. “You gave him the capsules with champagne.” Despite his pity for the woman weeping before him, Harry felt his anger mount. Poor unsuspecting Hobbs. What a price for his dalliance.

“I devoted my life to her! What did I get in return?” Fury flashed in Alicia’s eyes. “Nothing but heartache waiting for her to decide.” She drew herself up. “No matter what I had to offer, she wanted him even in death.” Pride rang in her voice. “But it was I who loved her enough to let her go.”

Harry was saddened beyond further comprehension. He left her sitting on the bed. As he passed through the downstairs hallway to the kitchen, he marvelled at the normality of the scene. The fire still blazed and the sherry glasses sat on the coffee table. Not thirty minutes ago, he had sat by in the living room enjoying the company of a charming woman. In the kitchen he picked up the telephone and dialled the police.

What I learned from Ernest Hemingway. Sat, 20 Dec 2008 22:10:59 +0000 admin

A quick Google of the title The Sun also Rises, by Ernest Hemingway, brings me pages upon pages of articles. With scads of information and opinion out there, what can I possibly add?

But before I answer that question, here is a photograph of the River Seine in Paris which I took in 2004–just to set the mood for the book set in Paris in the 1920’s

Most critics discuss at great length themes and characters of this novel. But my question is this:  how does a writer create such a palpable, all pervasive mood in a novel.

What is that mood? One of quiet desperation and frustration. But despite the characters’ ennui with life itself, we are captivated, fascinated with every detail of the story.

It is hard to imagine the psychic state of those who served in and lived through the First World War, which was the bloodiest of wars. The words, shell-shocked come to mind to describe the survivors. Millions of lives were lost and the lives of those who survived were shattered. At the end, most people wondered what on earth had been gained. But then, I suppose one can say that about many wars.

In this period, existentialism took root. According to that philosophy, man lived in a hostile, random universe and his only hope was his ability to make rational choices. Going another step further, nihilism became part of the mindset of many. No wonder!

And so, in The Sun Also Rises we have a protagonist, Jake Barnes, who tells us the story of life in Paris after the war and a drunken, almost pointless trip to the bullfights in Spain. In one way, we are eager to join in the partying but on the other, we are saddened by the hopelessness in the characters’ eyes.

Poor Jake is himself a symbol of the times-impotent like everyone in some way or another. But his impotence is literal. His genitals were destroyed in battle. He is desperately and hopelessly in love with a woman, Lady Brett Ashley, who has her own problems. She is compelled to sleep with any man she can find. Perhaps she is so driven because of a need to feel something-anything at all.

Although Jake is impotent, he loves Brett and has a compassionate understanding for her. She is desperately in love with him. Since their emotions cannot be physically expressed, they are completely frustrated.  Although sex is easy for her to find elsewhere, she is on a poignantly hopeless quest for love and sex and he is adrift, trying not to think about it.

With this extreme frustration, their world really is hostile and random. Who dealt these cards? One might ask. But then, that is not a question an existentialist who believes in a random world would ask because there is no being above dealing the cards. A mood of hopeless frustration, along with sadness and ennui, is conveyed.

But how does Hemingway do this? This is what I, as a writer, want to know.

Here’s what I think. Because Hemingway tells the story in the first person through Jake Barnes, he can convey a sharp immediacy of emotion. Every word in the book is from the mouth of Jake. Thus, all his painful thoughts, feelings and attitudes are expressed first hand. Hemingway is such an artist that he mutes the pain much of the time but then suddenly brings it full force to the reader.

“Which person” is a choice a writer must make almost right away? Will it be first person, third person-omniscient [voice over of God]?  Personally, I rarely write in the first person, usually preferring the flexibility of “the voice over of God”. But if you do use first person, then you can intensely convey one person’s feelings and control them throughout the novel.

By identifying entirely with his protagonist, the writer can set whatever moods he wishes to give to that character and convey to the reader. He has complete control of the fluctuations and pacing of mood. Had the novel been written from different viewpoints, we would then be going into the heads of other characters in the book, such as Lady Brett or Jake’s friend, Robert Cohn. Undoubtedly, they would have different points of view, thoughts, feelings and moods.

So, I suppose that, if you wish to create a story where one person’s mood is consistently expressed, along with all its different shadings, it may be an idea to stick with the first person telling.

On more technical matters, much of the story is written in the passive voice for which Hemingway is famous.  Actually, he is famous for his mixing of active and passive voices all in a few sentences. Here is an example straight from The Sun Also Rises, a scene in which Jake is feeling “rotten” about his situation.

We went into the dining room. I took up the brandy bottle and poured Brett a drink and one for myself. There was a ring at the bell-pull. I went to the door and there was the Count. Behind him was the chauffeur, carrying a basket of champagne.

This is just a tiny example, but when this technique is used throughout a novel, the writer can create a variety of moods and shift their pace.

Hemingway is also known for his short, declarative sentences, but here is one of the longest sentences I’ve ever read. It describes a road in the Spanish countryside.

After awhile we came out of the mountains, and there were trees along both sides of the road, and a stream and ripe fields of grain, and the road went on, very white and straight ahead, and then lifted to a little rise and off on the left was a hill with an old castle, with buildings close around it and a field of grain going right up to the walls and shifting in the wind.

What is achieved?  By the time I’ve reached the end of the sentence, I have really seen the fields of grain and heard the rippling stream. I may also have been lulled into a siesta, which would be appropriate for Spain. Particularly when Hemingway slows the pace way down, he creates the feeling that Jake is a detached observer rather than an active participant in all of life. And isn’t that the way a shell-shocked person might feel?

I love Hemingway’s dialogue. He really lets the words of his characters carry the scene. When I first began writing, an editor said to me that I should avoid editorializing. It took me a while to figure out what she meant. Here is an example from a first draft of Conduct in Question, the first in The Osgoode Trilogy which I began writing many years ago.

Harry Jenkins, thinking that Albert Chin must be a crook said, “Why didn’t you return the money?”

Certainly now, I can see how much better it would be to simply write

“Why didn’t you return the money?” asked Harry.

If Harry didn’t think Chin was a crook, why would he ask him such a question in the first place? It’s as if you were at a play and a very annoying director kept coming onto the stage and saying to the audience. “See how Harry thinks Chin is a crook?”

And so, Hemingway lets the words of the characters carry the scene-the meaning, the emotion-everything.  Here, Jake is lying on the bed and Brett has been trying to comfort him. He is terribly in love with her and they both know, because of her nature and needs, she can’t stay with him.

Why are you going away? [Jake]

Better for you. Better for me. [Brett]

When are you going?

Soon as I can.


San Sebastian.

Can’t we go together?

No, that would be a hell of an idea after we talked it out.

We never agreed.

Those few lines would be ruined, I think, had the writer added in such things as he said sadly or she said with determination. And so, the scene is stark and desolate, as it was intended to be, because the words, all by themselves, convey their sense of futility and hopelessness.

Just try to write like that!